Veteran Toledo outdoorsmen John Sinkovic and Mike Pasztor have just done something that many veteran Alaskans only dream about. Alaskans they met told them so.
They spent four months traveling around the Gulf of Alaska, camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and enjoying the world-class scenery and wildlife.
They caught all kinds of salmon and some big flat halibut, got chased by and visited by grizzly bears, rode out waves erupting from the crash of calving icebergs, and lived in some big country. But besides that, Sinkovic was most struck by the friendliness and hospitality of Alaskans.
"One of the nicest parts, in all those little towns on the coast, the people were so sociable and helpful," summed Sinkovic about the best of the best of his Alaskan odyssey. He flew home, arriving last Sunday night.
Pasztor, in the meantime, is completing the adventure by taking a daughter, who traded places with Sinkovic, sightseeing in the Gulf of Alaska. Then he was to drive his pickup camper down the Al-Can Highway for a hunt in Montana before returning to Toledo.
The men left Toledo May 26 in Pasztor's new pickup and camper, two 14-foot kayaks strapped on top, and camping and fishing gear crammed everywhere. It was two days after Pasztor retired after 30 years as a carpenter. Sinkovic, a retired radiology administrator at St. Vincent Hospital, celebrated his 78th birthday in July in the Alaskan bush.
"What a great way to spend a birthday," Sinkovic wrote in a trip log he mailed to the outdoors desk. "Clamming, kayaking, camping, fishing, photography, viewing Alaska's animals, its snow-capped mountains, the bays, the eagles, and the wonderful people with whom we have made friends with."
By that time they had made their way via the efficient world-class intracoastal ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway, around the Gulf all the way from Prince Rupert, B.C., to Homer, Alaska, on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.
Mind you, what these outdoorsmen experienced and enjoyed is not for greenhorns. Sinkovic and Pasztor are veterans of bushwacking, having made several float trips down wild Alaskan streams, and many archery hunts for caribou and bear across the Canadian north, among other trips.
But they demonstrated what can be done on a do-it-yourself adventure if you have the experience and stamina to do it.
"I have the arms of a gorilla from all the paddling," joked Sinkovic.
"You've got to have a good tent and a blue tarp."
The tarp is for extra roof protection in the periodically heavy rains. They also carried two sets of rain gear "and good long stakes" for the tent, to hold it down in the not uncommon strong windstorms.
Their field smarts came to the fore especially when they were around bears, both black and grizzly, and that occurred frequently. Both men and bears fished for silver and king salmon in the streams.
Both Mike and John carried single-action .44 magnum revolvers. But Sinkovic acknowledged it mostly was for peace of mind.
"They wouldn't have done any good with bears that size," he said. "I would have felt just as comfortable without a gun."
Most effective as a bear deterrent around their sandbar and gravel bar streamside stops, he contended, was hanging four or five bags of mothballs.
"We think that was what really kept [bears] away, even at nighttime, from our tent-camp."
For all their precautions and constant attention to details - you must be alert all the time when far from help - their trip was safe and healthy.
"Four and a half months, and we never opened the first-aid kit."
Their closest scare was a bear encounter that occurred Aug. 6 during a fly-in float trip down the Alagnak River out of King Salmon, Alaska. "Action! Action!" Sinkovic recalled in his field notes.
A big grizzly boar trundled across the river about 9:45 p.m - "lots of light yet" - and made a beeline for the camp. The men grabbed their pistols, and Pasztor climbed a 15-foot pine tree - for a better perch from which to make a video. The bear ended up beneath his tree and stretched up and started sniffing toward Pasztor's boot soles when Pasztor let out a war-whoop.
"He ran off about 15 yards, turned and looked back, and left."
A nervous hand might have fired the handgun and started deadly trouble with an enraged, wounded grizzly. The men also carried a can of pepper spray, but again Sinkovic questioned its effectiveness as a deterrent, adding that nothing beats using your head.
"I've been in the bush for a number of years in all kinds of camps," ends Sinkovic. "But each day in the Alaskan bush you have to be on your toes 24 hours a day."
They always were looking over their shoulders for bears.
"You never knew where a bear would come from."
Along the way, the men landed too many salmon to count, on flyrods and spinning tackle - silvers of four to six pounds and kings of 15 to 20 pounds. Pasztor also had the distinction of landing a 40-pound while fishing from his kayak. "We ate that halibut for three days. We ate fish every other day," said Sinkovic.
But they never kept more than they could eat.
"In four months, we only ate in four restaurants."
The Toledo "sourdoughs" found that the pickup camper was an excellent base of operations, moving off and on the ferry and driving the little roads-to-nowhere that lead from the little coastal owns.
"We were so mobile," said Sinkovic.
And the float-trip in a "rubber raft" and all the kayaking, he added, "is the only way to see those back rivers and lakes."
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